Take the poker straight or go for the straight flush?

GamingToday.com is an independent sports news and information service. GamingToday.com has partnerships with some of the top legal and licensed sportsbook companies in the US. When you claim a bonus offer or promotion through a link on this site, Gaming Today may receive referral compensation from the sportsbook company. Although the relationships we have with sportsbook companies may influence the order in which we place companies on the site, all reviews, recommendations, and opinions are wholly our own. They are the recommendations from our authors and contributors who are avid sports fans themselves.

For more information, please read How We Rank Sportsbooks, Privacy Policy, or Contact Us with any concerns you may have.

Gaming Today is licensed and regulated to operate in AZ, CO, CT, IN, KS, LA, MI, NJ, NY, PA, TN, and VA.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a friend who texted me late one night looking for some video poker advice. I wound up taking a picture of a strategy chart and texting him back.

This past week, he needed more help. He was a dealt a 4-card Straight Flush that was also a Straight and wanted to know what the right play was. I looked it up and told him the correct play and what the expected value of each hand was.

The expected value of the Straight is very straight forward. The payout is 4, the expected value is 4. The Straight Flush isn’t really all that hard to calculate if you need to on the fly either. There are two ways to complete the Straight Flush, five ways to complete the Straight again and seven ways to wind up with a Flush. So if we take (2 x 50) + (5 x 4) + (7 x 6) we get 162. Divide this by 47 and we get 3.45.

A strategy chart might say 3.55, but this is an average of all hands of this type, including those with High Cards. My friend described a hand with no High Cards. So, the decision is not all that close. An expected value of 4.0 vs. 3.45 leaves little doubt. Take the sure thing and take the money.

Even if my friend was playing max-coin at a $1 machine, he is taking about $2.75 difference over the long run each time this hand comes up. I certainly don’t recommend you go for the Straight Flush, but this is not a life altering amount. This not a hand that occurs often.

A 4-card Straight Flush only happens about every 2,500 hands. Of these, only about 1 in 6 will be a Straight. So, in the grand scheme of things, if you play it wrong, you’re not going to do major damage to your bankroll.

Again, this does not justify playing it the wrong way, it just means if you find out you’ve been playing it wrong, don’t go beating yourself up!

Now, if the hand had been a 4-card Royal and a Straight, the impact becomes much greater and the hands flip flop. A 4-card Royal has an expected value of 18-plus.

When compared to the expected value of a Straight, the impact is far more significant. It will hurt those times you draw an off-suit Low Card and miss completely, but this will be greatly offset by the 1 in 47 times you hit the Royal!

As you can see from these numbers, having a Flush instead of a Straight doesn’t change our strategy. The impact of the original situation becomes a bit greater. An expected value of 6.0 is significantly higher than the 3.45 of the 4-card Straight Flush.

A significant number of 4-card Straight Flushes and 4-card Inside Straight Flushes will be a guaranteed winner. Roughly 1/3 of all of these hands will be High Pairs. A High Pair has an expected value of only about 1.5. So, in these cases, even a 4-card Inside Straight Flush warrants being played over the High Pair.

As powerful as the Royal is, however, we find that a 3-card Royal is not worth playing over a High Pair, although the gap in the expected values is only 0.13. This is especially important if you are playing a progressive where the Royal may pay more than 800 per coin in.

As this amount rises, the 3-card Royal will get closer to the High Pair and eventually overtake it. This is despite the fact the Flush has been lowered to pay 5 to help fund the progressive.

All of what I have written here applies to Jacks or Better – and many other of the most popular games. But, you must pay attention to the paytable to know for sure. While very few video poker variants increase the Straight Flush, a few do. If the Straight Flush pays 100 instead of 50, the expected value on our 4-card Straight Flush will increase significantly and they may overtake the expected value of the Straight.

Of course, in similar fashion, we may find the Straight pays more than 4 and then the Straight will have a higher expected value. One thing unlikely to change is that a 4-card Royal trumps every other hand except a Straight Flush. If you’re dealt a suited 9 thru K, you’re just going to have “settle” for your 50-for-1 payout.

Buy his book now!

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

Get connected with us on Social Media